A recently released report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) on Botswana says food and nutrition has always been a challenge in the country that is still heavily reliant on food imports.
FAO states that Botswana imports over 90 percent of its cereal and grain requirements and 42 percent of its needs in fruits and vegetables. The report notes that because of persistent droughts that have reduced cereal production in the past few years, the number of food insecure people increased.
In 2019, the proportion of food insecure people was 49.5 percent, nearly 2 percent above the average for 2015-2019 that stood at 47.7 percent. At national level, 50.8 percent of Batswana were affected by moderate to severe food insecurity in 2018/19 while 22.2 percent of the population was affected by severe food insecurity.
According to the report, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which necessitated movement restrictions to limit the spread of the disease, exacerbated household food insecurity. The restrictions resulted in limiting activities in informal businesses and availability of farm labour for agricultural activities and food production.
“It is worth noting that at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Botswana scaled up the safety net system by providing nutritionally balanced food baskets to vulnerable households and wage subsidies to small companies to prevent job losses, says the report. “However, as the pandemic continued into 2021, the number of food insecure people was expected to increase as disruptions in the agri-food system and loss/reduction in household incomes limit access to food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.”
The FAO report notes that as the main sector supporting poor households in rural areas, agriculture needs to be adequately supported by developing and strengthening priority value chains to make them more productive, efficient and competitive. With this, formal employment in the sector could increase significantly over the next four years, providing higher potential and steady income inflows into rural areas.
To underscore the primacy of agriculture, the report says despite its decline over the past decades, the sector still plays a critical role in the livelihoods of rural populations, particularly women, who depend largely on subsistence agriculture. It notes that together with natural resources, this sector employs about 7.4 percent of the labour force, yet contributes to only 2.5 percent of formal employment in Botswana.